If you’ve watched a few morning sessions of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors meetings, you’ve probably laid eyes on Bill Pelfrey.
Donning a mustache and glasses, jeans, boots, a brown jacket, and a brown brimmed hat that’s usually removed at the public comment podium, the Templeton resident will try to stir the common sense of whoever’s listening, while directing sharp criticisms at county staff or his favorite political adversaries.
Often he’ll chide them about government accountability and process.
Now he’s at the center of the drama after he and two other members of the Templeton Area Advisory Group (TAAG) resigned and walked out of the group’s Aug. 18 meeting.
TAAG is one of the several advisory bodies that offer localized input to the county Board of Supervisors but possess no real authority. Still, there’s no shortage of micropolitical jockeying.
The recent upset started after Pelfrey—the group’s chair—took on TAAG Treasurer Sarah Maggelet, who was writing checks to her husband Scott’s business, Applynx Website Solutions, for hosting TAAG’s website.
Applynx started hosting TAAG’s website for $84 a year in 2011. Maggelet, also executive director of the Templeton Chamber of Commerce, became a TAAG delegate in 2012 and was elected treasurer in 2013. Applynx took over updating duties to post monthly meeting agendas and minutes, which it did for free until the company downsized and was forced to charge about $20 to $40 a month for the posting service.
Maggelet said she emailed then-Chair David La Rue to inform him of the changes—but she never heard back. Pelfrey said La Rue told him he never had a conversation with Maggelet about the new changes. La Rue couldn’t be reached for comment.
As time went by Maggelet was re-elected treasurer and TAAG continually approved—often unanimously—her reports that listed the increased charges from Applynx, totaling $105.25 in 2014 and $484 in 2015.
“At no time did I ever hide that my husband was hosting our site or doing editing of our extremely antiquated site,” Maggelet said, adding that nobody, including Pelfrey, ever brought it up.
In March, Pelfrey became chair, Maggelet became vice chair, and Pelfrey began pushing the issue.
The board had TAAG alternate Murray Powell, a former certified public accountant and construction industry executive, conduct an internal financial review. Powell said Pelfrey agreed to hold off going to the county until that review was complete.
But then, Pelfrey emailed county Auditor Jim Erb on May 23, asking him to look for any “failures of process.” Erb said the charges didn’t seem excessive and pointed out that TAAG did approve the payments, albeit retroactively.
Pelfrey also asked Erb if Maggelet’s actions violated conflict of interest laws.
“I do not see any undue enrichment with the information you provided. The charges seem reasonable and in fact were probably understated in the early years,” Erb wrote. “Often nonprofits with limited budgets rely on good people to get things done without any meaningful compensation.”
Maggelet told New Times that TAAG has to get creative to stretch the $1,000 a year they get from the Board of Supervisors.
“We try to find ways to get it down as cheap as possible, and that means using friends and husbands to update websites,” she said.
Assistant County Counsel Tim McNulty determined the conflict of interest laws don’t apply because TAAG isn’t an official government organization.
In response to all of this, Applynx decided to stop hosting the website, and the duties were moved over to GoDaddy.
In July, Powell presented the internal review, finding no wrongdoing, and TAAG accepted it 7-0. But Pelfrey continued to lob accusations at Maggelet, so she, Powell, and delegate Larry Stone pushed to revoke Pelfrey’s chair status for violating bylaws by representing the group to Erb without prior approval, but their motion didn’t get enough votes.
“At that point, I think most people thought that was the end of this,” Powell said.
But it wasn’t. Pelfrey agendized an item for the Aug. 18 meeting to consider Maggelet’s removal from the board for violating bylaws.
That caused a rift from the meeting’s beginning, and Pelfrey wound up on the losing end. So he, joined by delegates Jeff Debrish and Wayne Gretter, stood up, resigned, and left.
Pelfrey said Maggelet’s clear conflict of interest didn’t sit well with him, and therefore he could no longer participate with fellow board members who brushed off the issue.
“A treasurer is responsible for our monies, and it’s a pretty serious thing. It’s tax dollars,” Pelfrey said. “The whole thing is about a cover up protecting one person, this member of TAAG, from being held accountable from past violations of bylaws and procedures. … They decided to tear TAAG in two, to stop the meeting right after the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Maggelet said TAAG will move forward without the trio that quit, and the advisory group will be stronger for doing so. A Sept. 8 special meeting is scheduled to continue the August agenda items.
“It’s been one man’s crusade, and I can’t even determine what the reason is,” she said. “I wish there was something that would make this a little more rational to me.”
Contact Staff Writer Jono Kinkade at [email protected].
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay